Supercomputer brings dollars for scholars

August 20, 1999

A new supercomputer installed at the University of Melbourne could bring the university millions of dollars in revenue.

The university's new Melbourne Advanced Research Computing Centre (MARCC) will rent the system out to small to medium-sized companies wanting high performance computing for short periods.

The money generated will be shared with the computer company, NEC Australia, which supplied the SX-4 machine.

The computer will be leased to firms via the university's commercial offshoot, Melbourne University Private, at rates ranging from

Aus$90 to Aus$130 an hour, depending on the level of usage over a year. The university expects manufacturing and motor companies in particular will use the computer for visualisation and design. A contract has already been signed with a major Australian automobile company.

The supercomputer has two processors, each peaking at 1.8 gigaflops (billion floating point operations per second) and 4 gigabytes of memory.

Melbourne says it will be used by MARCC for research ranging from the study of free radical exchange in chemistry to theoretical physics, and claims it is one of the most powerful in any university in the country.

But two other universities in Melbourne have developed their own supercomputer equivalents. Swinburne University has constructed what it says is the most powerful processing facility in higher education, while Monash University has set up a "metacomputer" also of linked workstations.

At Swinburne the astrophysics department has created a cluster of 65 Alpha workstations networked through a 100Mbps Cisco Fast Ethernet switch.

The Unix-based cluster is available for number-crunching by any school within the university. The cosmologists are using it to scan the southern heavens for neutron stars.

At Monash, the computer science department has a network of 60 Pentium II and Pentium III workstations with large memory and storage arrays. The university says such clusters are a viable way of achieving supercomputer-like performance at an extremely low cost.

The PC-based approach means Monash can take advantage of the declining prices and improved performance of the latest computers.

The university's researchers have written software to manage the cluster as a single logical machine. Several large Australian companies and a leading New York financial institution have bought the program.

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